Just a few weeks ago my business partner Kyle and I had the great fortune of going to Glen Cove, New York to be with our cohort of Echoing Green Fellows. We were in the midst of many projects in high gear so it was hard to pull way but going to the “New Fellows Retreat” is mandatory and you just don’t say not to retreats or Echoing Green. We did as we were told and showed up for 5 days of intensive connecting and learning with our fellow fellows who were coming from all over the word. Two arrived from Uganda, 1 from Kenya, another from Ghana and Argentina. Some had active businesses in India, Sweden, and China so moved from country to country. Now my sometimes judgmental mind had initially decided that this crew of over achievers must be competitive, hard or standoffish. I stepped off the train ready to be nice and try to set a tone of camaraderie as I attempting to ignore my own competitiveness. I was immediately disarmed by Frederick Wikholm, Zoe Wong and Rebecca Hui who were curious and interested and in our work. They were so easy to talk to. Then I ran into Tony Weaver and my roommate for the week, Amina Yamusah. They both hugged me and welcomed me with genuine feeling….
OK so I was basically wrong. Not only was I was humbled by the genius of their organizations, (and their age -most were around 30 years old) I was most humbled by who they were and how they got to this point in their lives. Who found these people?
I guess Echoing Green did. They also created an environment that fostered community, connectivity, and mutual support from the beginning as we gathered in circle. We did unique team building exercises that included my first improv class with Lisa Allison Pertoso and a scavenger hunt in midtown Manhattan during which I had to convince an apple store technician to fix my non-apple product-a Kenneth Cole watch. We explored our inner landscapes and the ways we functioned in the world as leaders. We had pitching sessions and brain trusts where we helped one another with problems we were facing in our new companies. I connected with Radwa Rostom, a fellow builder, and made a decision to use my Echoing Green professorial development stipend to visit her in Egypt and see how she creates durable and resilient houses and community buildings in underprivileged communities. I had an emotional session with my fellow Black Male Achievement Fellows- Corey Green, Tony Weaver, Jacob Allen, Quardean Lewis-Allen, Aminah Yamusah, Damon Packwood, Mubarak Lawrence and Alex Peay- where we spoke about black joy and our deep need for self care as people of color in the world trying to make big changes. I am so glad to be on this journey with you.
We also met with our chaplains. I had never heard of chaplaincy before but perhaps you have. During our fellowship we can call them anytime we need them. Their job is to listen to us and to support our emotional and spiritual well-being no matter our beliefs. Who knew a fellowship existed to support our whole selves. The chaplains, Eric, Shaundra and Jasmine-provided Kyle and I with a tool to help us create covenants and rituals around our partnership. These processes were intended to keep our relationship healthy and strong through the challenges we may have ahead.
While there were many serious moments my fellows and I just had so much fun. I honestly fell a little bit in love with all of them. They understood what Kyle and I were going through in ways some of our closest friends and family cannot. They understood why we are working so hard and how high the stakes are. To get 5 days with people who get you and a supportive staff caring for you meant that I relaxed into a place that allowed me to have the most fun I have had in quite a while. I want to thank Echoing Green and my other fellows for their support and encouragement. Thanks to that week, I returned to Oakland refreshed. I put my head down for another two weeks and then left for Captiva, Florida to do my first artists residency at Robert Rauschenberg’s former home and studios. I am here now and immersing myself into a totally different world and atmosphere that is also amazing but I am missing my 2016 Echoing Green Fellows for sure.